Frightened Rabbit’s Grant Hutchison on Losing His Brother and Keeping the Music Alive
Along with Julien Baker and Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull, Grant remembers Scott Hutchison’s brutally honest artistry.
When Frightened Rabbit decided to acknowledge the tenth anniversary of their breakthrough sophomore full-length, The Midnight Organ Fight, they were completely within their rights to do what most other bands would for such an occasion: reissue the record with a new coat of paint, dig into their archive of demos and outtakes, and tack them onto the existing tracklist as fan-service for die-hard listeners.
But that wasn’t to be for the native Scottish band—comprised of lead singer and songwriter Scott Hutchison, his younger brother and drummer Grant, guitarists Billy Kennedy and Simon Liddell, and guitarist/keyboardist Andy Monaghan—who instead decided upon a less conventional approach: having longtime friends and musical colleagues contribute covers of Organ Fight’s much-loved songs.
“Being such an important album for us as a band, for us as people, for fans of the band—there was just something about that record that felt like it deserved more than your standard re-release and re-press,” says Grant over the phone from his home in Glasgow. “It was great to kind of stand as an outsider to the process and witnesses it, hearing your songs, but they’re not yours. I could really enjoy them in a way I couldn’t normally with Frightened Rabbit.”
Sadly, before the record was poised for release last year, its intended celebration was irrevocably upended when Scott, who had long battled with depression and made his inner turmoil a linchpin of his lyrical output, took his own life. The album was naturally shelved while Grant, his family, and the band took time away to recover and adjust to the new reality of Scott’s absence.
Then the remaining members of Frightened Rabbit slowly returned to the prospect of finishing what they started. All of the songs intended for the tribute were already submitted before Scott’s death, and Scott himself had listened to every new rendition, even designing the album’s front and back art sleeves. No longer just a remembrance of an album, but now an unintended remembrance of Scott, the resulting Tiny Changes: A Celebration of Frightened Rabbit’s “The Midnight Organ Fight” provides a living history of the band through the perspective of their musical contemporaries. “It wasn’t about getting the biggest people to be a part of this, people who might get the biggest streaming numbers,” says Grant. “It was about telling a story of the past ten years of a record and a band and the people who helped write that story. And everyone on this record has had a part to play in that.”
“I really always loved how he used bad language. I loved his use of curse words. I thought they were beautifully placed.” — Andy Hull
Featuring faithful homages as well as reworked interpretations, Tiny Changes (which takes its name from “Head Rolls Off” and its poignant, optimistic line “while I’m alive I’ll make tiny changes to the earth”) includes contributions from The National’s Aaron Dessner and CHVRCHES’ Lauren Mayberry, The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, Josh Ritter, Daughter, and Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard.
Also included is Manchester Orchestra, who contribute a version of “My Backwards Walk.” Frontman Andy Hull developed an unexpected friendship with Scott when the Frightened Rabbit leader texted him out of the blue to express his admiration for them. Remaining in contact over the years, Scott and Hull recorded a standalone single called “Architect” for Record Store Day in 2013.
Being part of the covers tribute was a no-brainer for Hull. “I’m always a fan of the heart-on-your-sleeve mentality,” Hull explains. “I’ve always been connected to writers like that. When I heard Midnight Organ Fight I just thought, ‘Wow, this guy’s saying exactly what he’s thinking.’ And he was saying it in a really clever way. I always found the humor in his songs so wonderful. There were lines back to back with each other that were really funny, and then supremely dark. And honestly, I really always loved how he used bad language. I loved his use of curse words. I thought they were beautifully placed. He took great economy in that, and as a listener, it never felt like a throwaway. It was like, ‘I’m saying this for a reason.’”
Julien Baker, who toured alongside Frightened Rabbit and was even featured on the track “How It Gets” from their 2017 EP Recorded Songs, took on the intimidating task of covering one of the band’s most beloved songs, “The Modern Leper.” “It was such a daunting task,” Baker says. “It’s one thing to do a cover of a band that you admire, and hope that your interpretation is not this egregious embarrassment to the original. It’s another thing to then have to send that song to the person who created it in the first place and have them evaluate it. I still have such an immense respect for Frightened Rabbit and Scott as a poet and a writer, that I was so afraid to mess it up.” Baker admits she came to Frightened Rabbit’s catalog later than most, after being exposed to 2013’s Pedestrian Verse and watching them perform as openers for The National.
“It’s stripped of all the theatrical seriousness of sadness. He’s taken it into a realm where it’s both mundane, expected, and also something that you can’t help but laugh at.”
— Julien Baker
Much like Hull, Baker found herself drawn in by the undercutting cleverness of Scott’s songwriting. “It’s something that makes me want to wince, because it’s almost a more brutal acknowledgment of sadness when you are so familiar with it, that you can make it comedic,” she says. “The songs and Scott’s lyrics depict a life being lived in all of the painful, messy ugliness that that entails. He does that so well because it’s stripped of all the theatrical seriousness of sadness. He’s taken it into a realm where it’s both mundane, expected, and also something that you can’t help but laugh at.”
Aside from a select few songs, Grant has largely refrained from listening to old Rabbit recordings since Scott’s death. But that doesn’t stop him from regarding the songs they made together—particularly those from The Midnight Organ Fight—with an unquestionable reverence. “[Midnight Organ Fight] was very much Scott’s album,” Grant confesses. “He had it all in his head. Billy and I were there to play on it and be a part of that. But I definitely felt like—and I mean this in the most positive sense—I was a part of Scott’s vision. I could hear those songs as anyone else listening to them for the first time could. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone write and sing lyrics like that. And yes, it was hard because it was my brother. Some of the content in there is difficult, but that aside, it was great. It was just kind of astonishing for him to write so openly and honestly about real life things that lots of people go through and to not make it abstract or rely on metaphors, clouding it with poetic language. And it was poetic—I’m not saying it wasn’t—but it was kind of brutal and raw. There’s no mystery in what Scott said on that record. And that brutality and brutal honesty is not something you hear very often.”
While Grant admits that his brother and the rest of Frightened Rabbit were working on the follow-up to 2016’s Painting of a Panic Attack, and that enough recordings exist with Scott’s vocals that the band’s surviving members could put together some kind of release of new material in the future, the act of pursuing such an endeavor is still far from his mind. Finishing Tiny Changes was its own kind of emotional endurance test, reminding him to take things at his own pace. He’s still grieving, processing the end of an incredibly complicated bond with someone no one ever knew as well as he did.
“There’s no mystery in what Scott said on that record. And that brutality and brutal honesty is not something you hear very often.”
— Grant Hutchison
“It’s something I’ve spoken about a lot with a counselor I’ve been going to see—the blurred lines of our relationship, between professional and personal,” Grant explains. “I guess maybe it was a problem before, that they weren’t so clear, but even more so now. I think I’ve not spent a lot of time mourning my brother, you know? The images and words that have been shared, and the people that are sharing them, they are all sharing them because of the band and Scott, the singer of Frightened Rabbit, not the guy that I knew for thirty-some years of my life. And no one can know that side of things, not even Neil, my older brother, who has his own memories and stories and ties that he’ll remember.
“So yeah, the honest answer: I’m still working through it,” he continues. “I still don’t really know. And I don’t know if it’ll ever become as clear cut where I can say, ‘This is Scott, the singer in Frightened Rabbit,’ and ‘This is Scott, my brother.’ It probably won’t, and that does make it kind of difficult. My personality is to compartmentalize things. I’m a very logical person, but this makes no sense to me. It’s completely illogical and very difficult to categorize. It is something I’m prepared for never being able to understand. I guess it’s just about being aware that it’s now a new life. It’s a different life from what I led before. Not just because of the band not being there anymore, but realizing that I’m one brother of the two now, as opposed to three. The one thing I’ve thought a lot about is the point that will come where I’m older than Scott next year. He’s always going to be thirty-six. I’m going to pass that. I don’t expect any of these emotions to unblur themselves anytime soon, and possibly never.” FL